It’s easy to see why the RV lifestyle is so appealing to many Americans – it allows you to go off-grid and explore your surroundings in comfort and with the people you love. This freedom of having a home away from home can be a great way to spend your vacations, but what about taking the plunge to live in your RV on a permanent basis?
Full-time RV living is certainly a huge commitment and can be a rude awakening if you’re not entirely prepared for what it entails, but it is do-able, so don’t be discouraged if this is what you truly want! There’s a lot you should know about full-time RV life from campground costs and maintaining an income to staying comfortable in weather extremes.
Fortunately, we’ll help to answer some of these niggling questions below, as well as suggesting tips on budgeting and of course, how to choose the best RV to live in. Full-time RV life means sacrificing some things, but it can also come with the rewards of greater freedom and life satisfaction if you’re truly invested. Here’s a brief guide to the costs, practicalities and general window into full-time RV life.
Types of RV Campgrounds
Private RV Parks
Private RV campgrounds cost a little more than other park sites, since you’re paying for all the cool amenities that aren’t usually on offer elsewhere like swimming pools and game rooms in addition to the perks of having a reliable Wi-Fi connection and electricity and water hookups throughout your stay.
This can be a comfortable option for long-term parking (a month or longer) and campground memberships can help you save on the cost.
Public RV Parks
Public RV spots are a popular option since they are mostly free of charge – however, this means doing without the added amenities and hookups previously mentioned and instead relying on your RV’s tanks and generators to power your motorhome.
This is often called ‘dry-camping’ or ‘boon-docking’, which can be a great option for campers looking to connect more with nature than their phones and other electronics.
County and State RV Parks
County and State RV campgrounds are essentially public parks with some of the added perks of a private park. Doing a quick Google search will help you find a nearby RV park in your county or state and depending on where you live, your local park could provide full or limited access to hookups and could charge up to $20 per night (which is still far cheaper than the $75 and upwards charge per night of private RV parks).
National RV Parks
National RV camping spots are quite affordable and allow you to park right inside the park itself to save you and your passengers the hassle of commuting to your chosen beauty spot. As a result, National parks are almost too popular with RVers and you may have to secure your booking slot months and in some cases even a year in advance!
If nationwide exploration is part of your full-time RV living plans, then you’ll want to invest in a National Park pass to grant you year-round access and help you cut down on entry fees.
RV Campground Memberships Costs
Good Sam Club
The Good Sam Club membership applies to over 2,400 sites and while only offering 10% campground discounts, members can enjoy weekly offers and special coupons on things like fuel, propane and merchandise discounts at Camping World to help fund their RV supplies. Annual US membership costs $29.
Passport America offers up to 50% off campground fees at over 1,800 sites. They are renowned for their easy-to-use app which directs RVers to nearby sites and amenities. Yearly US membership costs around $44.
Boondockers Welcome is a directory of RVers willing to let fellow RVers park for a night or two on their property and operate in more than 2,450 locations across the US and Canada.
For the annual subscription fee of $42.50, 3 out of every 4 hosts will be able to provide electric and water hookups – and sometimes full hookups.
Escapees RV Club
An Escapees RV Club membership will get you discounts between 15% and 50% at over 1,000 campgrounds and is a great choice for newbie RVers as well as working-age RVers looking for a community to connect with. Annual US membership runs at $39.95.
Full-time fuel costs could be as much as $250 a month, but this will depend on your location and of course how much time you’re willing to spend in one place.
You may decide to work out your fuel budget on a weekly or monthly basis depending on whether you will be a long-term camper (staying put for a month or longer) or changing your scenery every few days.
Cell Phone + Internet RV Budget
Like your land-line and internet at home, this will be a fixed cost of RV living if it’s important to your lifestyle and work needs. Your cell phone budget should be easy enough to manage as you can change your current data plan to accommodate RV life, but working out your internet budget presents more options to you depending on your needs and location and could cost up to $200 each month.
You’ll be refilling your propane tank regularly and this could cost as little as $5 or as much as $30-$40 to refill depending on whether you’re traveling minimally or with a large family. As well as factoring how many people will make use of the propane tank for cooking and hot water, use of the furnace should also be considered when budgeting.
RV Insurance Costs
The cost of RV insurance will depend on your RV type – for instance, Class A, B and C motorhomes will carry different costs and policies. Annual RV insurance costs can range from $800 up to as much as $4,000 a year depending on the RV type, its age, your driving history and activity etc.
How to Choose the Best RV for Full-Time Living?
You must ask yourself 3 main questions: Who are you traveling with? What amenities are important to you? Will you stay in campgrounds or off-grid? As well as doing thorough research into the right RV for your needs based on these answers, it’s also a good rule of thumb to pick the smallest RV that you feel comfortable living in day-to-day.
The colossal Class A RVs that you see resembling something closer to a tour bus than a trailer may offer more space and greater luxuries, but the added maintenance costs (not to mention the limits on where you can park them and how unsuited they can be for certain public park stays) will soon have you regretting your purchase if you lack the budget and the necessity for such a monster RV.
What Is It like to RV full-time?
As tempting as it is to think of RV life as one long vacation, it is a lifestyle that requires forward planning. To give you more of an insight into the realities of RV life, we’ve gathered the great and not-so-great aspects of RV living from seasoned RVers…
- Exploring – the entire country is your oyster in your RV. Your scenery is always changing and you get to change your kitchen window view to whatever sets your heart alight – mountains, ocean, forests etc.
- Cheaper than traditional living – all your home bills and mortgage payments go out the window with RV living. Though you still need to pay towards RV insurance, gas and food etc, the difference in total monthly costs in an RV compared to just paying rent on your bricks and mortar home can’t be compared!
- Escaping the rat race – you longer need to earn your income through conventional means in an office job. Many RVers earn their living as bloggers, authors and even campground staff with the help of sites like Workamper.
- Reconnecting with nature (and yourself) – RV life will make you appreciate the great outdoors more than ever before, and it will also challenge you and make you more adaptive. You’ll face things breaking, messing up and generally not going to plan sometimes, and come out much stronger for it.
- Meeting new people – For the most part, the RV community is filled with welcoming, like-minded people, and not only will you make new and perhaps life-long friendships from fellow passionate RVers, but you will also meet people from all cultures and walks of life, enriching your RV life even further.
- Lack of space – there’s no getting around it – your RV is no place for clutter, and while that’s a good thing, it also means you can never take every single kitchen gadget you love with you to create show-stopping meals and bath time may never be as relaxing as it once was, so you’ve got to be prepared for the downsizing aspect!
- Things will break on you – when your permanent home is zipping down the freeway at over 60 mph, it’s more vulnerable to things breaking, leaking and generally causing a repair headache for you, which is why including the repairs in your monthly budget a smart move
- Mold and mildew issues – left unchecked, your RV can grow mold and mildew fast. Because RV’s can’t get the strongest ventilation, mold can build up pretty quickly in unseen moist areas of the bathroom and kitchen areas, so inspect your RV regularly.
How Do You Get Your Mail While RVing?
You can still receive your mail while living full-time in your RV by redirecting it to a nearby PO Box which can usually be rented for as little as $25 per 6 months. If this arrangement doesn’t work for you, you can also get your mail forwarded to the campground site you are staying in or leave your mail with a trusted friend’s address.
Popular Full-time RV Living Places
Full-time RV life means getting to park your home in the most beautiful spots the country has to offer and leaving the ‘system’ behind, but for those who want to live in their RV and still get the benefits of health care and being registered to vote, there are three states that are hugely popular with full-time RVers – Texas, Florida and South Dakota.
These three states make it easy and affordable to establish state residency (which is what you’ll need in order to enjoy voting, having health care access and have a stable living address). You can find out more about state residency here.
Full-time RV Living in Cold Weather
Whilst you’ll have your furnace and perhaps a fireplace to keep you warm in winter, the fact is that the walls of your RV obviously won’t be as well-insulated as a traditional home, so you will need to consider making changes to the interior. This ranges from budget options such as adding thermal curtains to your windows and under-pinning your camper or applying ‘RV skirting’ as it’s also known – this provides a wind barrier to make your RV floors feel warmer.
More costly changes to get your RV ready for winter is to install foam insulation and bubble insulation boards throughout your trailer which could be especially costly for larger motorhomes, and you may want to upgrade your windows and re-seal each one with RV sealant to make them more weather-tight to the elements.
The Downsides of Full-time RV Life
In addition to the obvious cons to RV living listed above, there are a number of factors that you could consider deal-breakers about full-time living, such as:
Mail and deliveries – as well as the headache of redirecting mail that’s sent to you when you’re on the move, awaiting deliveries to your RV can also be frustrating – for instance, maybe you had plans to move on to another location, but were forced to wait at your current campground because your package arrived late.
Laundry – depending on the RV you go for, you can have the option to have a washer/dryer on board with you. And while this is convenient, it will not have the delicate or gentle wash cycles that you’re accustomed to with a residential washer. Loads also take a long time and consume more water and power.
Leaving your social life behind – as you travel across the country, you’ll have the chance to meet lots of new people and feel like you’re part of the wider RV community, particularly if you have long-term stays in certain campgrounds. However, full-time RV life means sacrificing your social circles back home – family, friends and neighbors, your buddies in your spin class etc.
Unreliable internet access – you can have the best Wi-Fi hookup in your RV or at your campground, but if you’re moving regularly from state to state, you’re going to run into poor cellular service and therefore – dry connection spots, so be prepared for the fact that internet access won’t always be super reliable.
Budgeting Tips for Full-time RV Living
Buy Used First
If you have the budget to buy brand new, that’s great! But buying a used RV can help you test the waters of RV living without breaking the bank. It will also give you the opportunity to see what you really need out of your RV to make your second purchase ‘the one’.
Research Memberships and Discounts
Newbie RVers can’t assume that every park and camp site they run into is free of charge or low-priced. So make sure you do your research many months in advance of setting off on the road and if you’re not already signed up to campground memberships and discount sites for RVers like those mentioned earlier, ensure you shop around to see what might suit your budget and your location plans.
Be Flexible with Your Plans
In unforeseen circumstances – i.e. government shutdowns of certain national parks due to seasonal closures – then it helps to plan ahead for plan B, C and D! You don’t want to waste your fuel driving halfway across the state only to find that your chosen campground or park is closed, so take advantage of RV apps and guides to help you stay alert to changes on the road and to help you find cheaper deals on a last-minute campground stay.
Do Maintenance During Long-term Stays
If you’re staying out in a campground or park for a month or more, then you should use the time you have to keep on top of RV maintenance to ward off any costly repairs down the line.
For instance, running your generator at least once every 3-4 weeks to prevent it from breaking; running your slide-out compartments in and out once a month to keep them lubricated; starting your engine once a month. Think of your static RV like a human body – it needs a form of ‘warm-up’ exercise before it sets off on the road again!